From Cruce Caleta Tortel, the Carretera Austral continues 211 kilometers (131 mi) south to Puerto Yngay on Fiordo Mitchell. A ferry (transbordador) carries vehicles and passengers across to RĂo Bravo, where the Carretera Austral continues to Villa Oâ€™Higgins, the end of the road. As the highway comes into town, it is Calle HernĂˇn Merino. Midway down is the AĂ©rodomo RĂo Mayer, Villa Oâ€™Higginsâ€™ airport.
Villa Oâ€™Higgins is surrounded by mountains and native forest. In its center is the grassy plaza with the obligatory busts of the Chilean heroes. A covered wooden arcade provides shelter from the rain. On Sunday mornings, itâ€™s the favorite napping spot for horses.
Villa Oâ€™Higgins is a 20th-century town. In 1903-1904 the CompaĂ±Ăa Ganadera arrived in these parts to establish a massive cattle ranch stretching from the mouth of RĂo Mayer in Villa Oâ€™Higgins southward to the coast of Laguna El RĂo de las Vueltas and Laguna del Desierto in Argentina. When the Chilean government authorized colonization in the region, the CompaĂ±Ăa began pulling out. Some workers stayed behind to settle a town along with immigrant European settlers. During the 1920s, Chileans also came to build their homes. President Eduardo Frei Montalva officially founded Villa Oâ€™Higgins in 1966. This was part of Padre Antonio Ronchiâ€™s circuit in the 1970s and 1980s. One of his projects was the yellow church on the plaza, which now houses the Museo de la Patagonia Padre Antonio Ronchi, built in 1977 and which displays the life and work of the hardy folks of this area (If not open, ask at the tourism kiosk or the municipality. Ca. RĂo Bravo). At Estancia Las Margaritas, 23 kilometers (14.3 mi) from Villa Oâ€™Higgins is another church built by Padre Antonio Ronchi (6 km/3.6 mi north on the Carretera Austral, before the RĂo Baker bridge, is the turn-off to the estancia, which is 17 km/10.6 mi down that road). Before the Carretera Austral arrived in November 1999 and ties strengthened with the rest of Chile, people here only used the Argentine peso.
The townâ€™s economy continues to be based on cattle raising and timber, as well as more and more, tourism. Several young artisans are reviving traditional Patagonian craft techniques, like rawhide braiding and woodworking, to create everyday utensils and souvenirs. Festivities here reflect these characteristics of the village:
First week of February â€“ Bandeo de Animales desde Lago Oâ€™Higgins a BahĂa BahamĂłndez â€“ a cattle drive
Second week of February â€“ Encuentro Cultural Tropeando paâ€™ no Olvidar â€“ a celebration of Villa Oâ€™Higgins' culture and traditions
September 20 â€“ Aniversario â€“ the townâ€™s anniversary celebration with a Gran Asado (big barbecue)
Second week of November â€“ Encuentro Cultural Regional IndĂgena â€“ a regional meeting of indigenous peoples
Second week of December â€“ Jineteadas del Mayer â€“ rodeo time!
Even though people come to Villa Oâ€™Higgins just to do the border crossing to El ChaltĂ©n, Argentina, the village is a destination unto itself. Five trekking trails invite visitors out into the wilds. Starting from Cerro Santiago behind the town are three of these paths: Sendero Cerro Santiago, Sendero RĂo Mosco and Sendero Cerro Submarino. Another one, Sendero Humedales RĂo Mayer, goes to wetlands frequented by birds. The city has a detailed guide-map for these trails, as well as for Sendero Altavista, one of two Senderos de Chile in the region. The other is Tramo Ventisquero Chico, from Mansilla Candelario on the far side of Lago Oâ€™Higgins to Ventisquero Chico. For complete information, see Parque Nacional Bernardo Oâ€™Higgins or visit www.senderodechile.cl. The trails are best hiked September-April. The weather changes quickly, so if hiking, take rain and wind-proof clothing, water and high-energy food.Many of these trails may also be done on horseback. Another popular activity is sport fishing. During the summer, Hielo Sur does cruises around Lago Oâ€™Higgins to the foot of Glaciar Oâ€™Higgins (adults $100, children 8-14 $50, children under 8 years free, 11.5 hours).
Actually, the end of the Carretera Austral is not Villa Oâ€™Higgins. It continues another seven kilometers (4.2 mi) south to Puerto BahamĂłndez on Lago Oâ€™Higgins. It is an amazing feat of engineering, with 90 curves. Here the great highway ends its 1247-kilometer (775-mi) journey from Puerto Montt. Hopes is someday this road will lead further south, passing through Argentina, to Puerto Natales â€“ if a way around the glaciers, mountains and numerous lakes can ever be found.
During the summer, a tourism information kiosk is open on the plaza (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 2:30-5:30 p.m. Calle Oâ€™Higgins). At other times of the year, stop by the municipality (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 2:30-5:30 p.m. Lago Cristie 121, Tel.: 21-1849, URL: www.villaohiggins.cl). The Conaf office is at the end of RĂo Pascua. The town also has a first aid post, post office (Lago Christie and RĂo Mayer) and satellite phone. There is no bank or ATM; for money exchange, try Hielo Sur. Free Internet is available at the public library (Lago Christie and RĂo Bravo); the town is wired with WiFi, though the connection is unsteady.
Rolando Arratia works in reed and rawhide. Javier CĂˇrdenas and Hugo Alvarado specialize in woodworking. A shop on Lago Oâ€™Higgins, between RĂo Mosco and Rio Bravo, sells fishing gear.
Hielo Sur (Carretera Austral, across from the airport, Tel.: 43-1821, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, URL: www.hielosur.com) â€“ boat excursions to Glaciar Oâ€™Higgins and charter trips
Nelson HenrĂquez (Tel.: 21-1849) â€“ fishing, horseback riding
Adolfo Guinao (Tel.: 43-1873) â€“ horseback riding to local attractions and special excursions on the Ruta Los Colonos (from Villa Oâ€™Higgins to Cochrane)
North of the airstrip on the main road are several campgrounds.
Hospedaje Carretera Austral (RĂo Colorado and Lago Salto, Tel.: 43-1819) -- $10 per person
La Cascada (Lago Salto and RĂo Mosco, Tel.: 43-1833) -- $12-14 per person, kitchen
HosterĂa Villa Oâ€™Higgins (Lote 5, Predio Angelita, Tel.: 43-1870) â€“ single $50, double $65
The town has four basic grocery stores, a butcher's and a bakery.
Restaurant-Bar Entre Patagones (Carretera Austral s/n, north entrance to town, Tel.: 43-1810, E-mail: email@example.com)
Restaurante Campanario (Lago Oâ€™Higgins 72)
San Gabriel (Oâ€™Higgins and RĂo Los Ă‘adis)
(Altitude:255 m / 837 ft, Population:approximately 500, Phone Code: 067)
Other places nearby Villa O'Higgins: Reserva Nacional JeĂnemeni, Reserva Nacional Coyhaique, Coyhaique, Puerto Chacabuco , Reserva Nacional FutaleufĂş, Parque Nacional HornopirĂ©n, Puerto Puyuhuapi, Caleta Tortel, Cochrane and HornopirĂ©n Village.
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